Town approves Blowing Rock microbrewery
by Kellen Moore
Plans for the Blowing Rock Ale House moved forward Tuesday with the unanimous approval of a conditional use permit by the Blowing Rock Town Council.
The proposal is to convert part of the Maple Lodge on Sunset Drive into a restaurant and bar. A separate two-bedroom cottage also will be renovated into a brewery for small batches of Blowing Rock Ale.
Maple Lodge owners Rob Dyer and Lisa Stripling plan to keep nine of the historic lodge's 13 existing bedrooms and convert the breakfast area into the restaurant and bar. Breakfast will be served only to inn guests, but lunch and dinner will be open to the public.
Meanwhile, the cottage would produce less than 700 gallons per week of Blowing Rock Ale, primarily for on-site consumption.
Todd Rice, co-owner of Boone Brewing Company, said they hope to start renovations in November or December in order to be operational in summer 2013.
In addition to boosting name recognition and sales for the company, co-owner Jeff Walker said he believes the addition of the brewery in downtown Blowing Rock will further promote the town as a travel and tourism destination.
The idea proved alluring to Dyer and Stripling, business partners who own the Inn at Ragged Gardens and The Best Cellar in Blowing Rock. The pair purchased the Maple Lodge in February and refurbished the entire space.
Dyer said visitors always show an interest in the beer, which is sold at the Inn, so partnering with Boone Brewing Company was a natural step.
"Every time we opened (the beer), the next question was, 'Well, where is the brewery?'" Dyer said.
The council asked only a few questions at Tuesday's meeting before approving the conditional use permit request. The planning board had unanimously recommended approval at its June 21 meeting.
Slight concerns were raised Tuesday about parking space, but the Maple Lodge owners said they expect most of their dining guests to be arriving on foot. The lodge will provide 12 parking spaces, including one handicapped van-accessible spot, in keeping with town ordinances.
"I'd like to say 'thank you' to a small business trying to get started in one of the worst economies there is," Commissioner Dan Phillips said after the vote.
Stripling said they expect to add 10 or fewer jobs through the restaurant and microbrewery.
While plans for the microbrewery and restaurant are not yet final, the Town Council's approval represents one more piece falling into place.
The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission granted permits to the Maple Lodge in June to serve alcohol on-site. The lodge was able to get approval from ABC despite being located adjacent to the Blowing Rock School Auditorium.
Principal Patrick Sukow wrote a letter to the ABC Commission stating that neither the school nor former interim Superintendent Dick Jones objected to the proposal.
While the microbrewery will not account for a large percentage of Blowing Rock Ale's total production, it will represent part of the Boone Brewing Company's plan for growth.
The company launched in 2008 and today sells six varieties across North and South Carolina. Its headliner is the Blowing Rock High Country Ale, but it also offers a bock lager, Oktoberfest lager, summer ale, winter ale and India pale ale.
Walker said they hope to build a production brewery in Watauga or a surrounding county in the near future to supply the region.
The Town Council also unanimously approved annexation of a nearly 25-acre parcel off U.S. 321 owned by the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
The tract, adjacent to another 43 acres purchased previously by the hospitals, will be the site of Appalachian Place at Chestnut Ridge, a proposed extended care facility that will replace the Blowing Rock Hospital.
The town already had annexed the larger parcel, ensuring that water and sewer services would be provided.
The smaller parcel runs along the highway from near the Blue Ridge Parkway almost to Roaring River Drive. The hospitals plan to create an access to the property at the existing traffic light at Edmisten Road.